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Common Ailments

Swimmer's Ear

What is it?
Swimmer's ear (otitis externa) is an inflammation of the ear canal by bacterial or fungal infection, or dermatitis (eczema).

What causes it?
Swimmer's ear is usually a result of using objects such as cotton swabs in the ear canal which cause irritation and remove the protective wax. Infection can then develop following prolonged retention of water from swimming or bathing.

What are the symptoms?
Usually there is mild pain and/or itching that may progress to severe pain, drainage and/or decrease in hearing. There is a possibility of low grade fevers, enlargement of lymph nodes, and pain and swelling of the ear canal. Usually the middle ear and ear drum are not involved.

What can you do?
Take the prescribed medication exactly as instructed. If you are uncertain about any aspect of your antibiotic treatment ask for further explanation.
Take aspirin, ibuprofen or acetaminophen every 4-6 hours for fever and discomfort. Aspirin and ibuprofen have anti- inflammatory properties and may be of more help in relieving pain. These should not be taken together. Choose one.

You must keep your ear dry. No swimming or other activity that allows water or other fluid (except the prescribed medication) in the canal must be allowed. When showering place a cotton ball coated with petroleum jelly at the entrance to the ear canal. Wet your hair last, and dry it first.

To avoid further problems:
- Never put irritants such as full strength alcohol in ears to dry them.
- Use a hair dryer to dry ears.
- Do not use objects like cotton swabs to remove wax.

Consult health care personnel:
- If there is no improvement in 2-3 days of beginning treatment.
- If the pain becomes severe.
- If the fever persists despite treatment.
- Anytime you are unaware of what to do.

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